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June 18, 2006

"The Metro-North Commuter Council"

Some people do much than just complain about their commute. They change it, by serving on the Metro-North Commuter Council.

In recent days I have been elected Chairman of the Council, a group on which I have served for 12 years, eleven of them as Vice Chairman. I thought this might be a good time to look back at the Council’s work and discuss some of my goals for its future.

The Council was established by the Connecticut legislature 20+ years ago and was given the job of being the eyes, ears and voice for the 120,000 daily riders on Metro-North (and Shore Line East) in the state. Our nine members are all commuters, appointed by various lawmakers to this volunteer job.

The Council meets monthly with senior executives of Metro-North, Connecticut Department of Transportation and other agencies to discuss all aspects of train operations. We also hold annual “Meet the Commuter Day” events at stations, bringing these agencies to meet their commuter constituents. Our next such event will be during morning rush hour on Wednesday June 28 at the Greenwich station.

Among the Council’s accomplishments to date: Persuading Metro-North to add more early morning trains… Increasing through trains from New Canaan to Grand Central… Postponing planned fare hikes…Fighting bus substitution for trains on the branch lines… Fixing up dilapidated rail stations and getting additional parking… and getting lawmakers to finally order new rail cars.

Though we have no authority to require the rail agencies to act, we are empowered to obtain from them any information we request. Often, those requests have unearthed what we thought were misplaced priorities and, using the power of the media to expose these, we have brought about needed change.

As Chairman I see our job as being advocates, not complainers. We are agents of change. And though we are collegial with the railroad folks, we are hardly quislings. In fact, there are times when we have asked the railroad why a condition is so bad, found they had perfectly reasonable answers, and then shared those facts with our fellow commuters. The growing problem of over-crowding on the trains is a case in point (see my last column “SRO on Metro-North” for example).

We also carry our advocacy for improved commuter rail to Washington, New York and Hartford, testifying before the lawmakers and meeting with the governor’s staff. We speak to community groups, attend meetings of similarly focused organizations and, yes, even write letters to the editor and columns such as this.

The past few years have been the darkest for commuter rail, but our best times are soon to come. The funding is finally there for long over-due investment in new equipment and expanded rail service is coming. But believe me when I pledge that the Commuter Rail Council will watchdog all of these improvements as diligently as we fought for them in years past.

Meantime, we need your help… not your money but your support. We have no budget but operate in the virtual world of the web and e-mail. I encourage you to visit our website ( www.trainweb.org/ct ), read our annual report, join our e-mail alert list for updates on our work on your behalf, and most importantly, consider seeking appointment to the Council as members.

We’re all commuters and together we can influence our collective future.

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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

1 comment:

gsingjane said...

Jim, congratulations. They couldn't have picked a more effective Chairperson than you. I am confident that the Council will continue its great work... and maybe even make MORE improvements... under your wise stewardship.

And now a request - not a complaint! As residents of the shoreline east of New Haven, we sorely miss the availability of ANY public transportation between our towns and New Haven on the weekend. No bus, no train, no jitney, no nuthin'. Particularly with the casino traffic that becomes so heavy on the weekends on I-95 during the summer, this is truly a "missing link." Is there some way the Council can advocate for this vital connection? I'm happy to participate in the effort, and you know where to reach me!

Jane in Guilford